Why Does Ankle Mobility Matter?
If you want to be able to squat deep with good form you're going to need to have good ankle mobility. The ankles are often forgotten when it comes to stretching, foam rolling and mobility drills...
The quads, glutes, hamstrings, lower back... these all receive far more attention and are often suspected to be the cause of poor squatting form, but at the end of the day if your ankle mobility is poor (which, let's face it most of ours is) you're going to run into problems.
Without getting too technical let's talk about what we're actually trying to achieve here and how the ankle works.
The ankle is a hinge joint and moves through one plane of motion (called the sagittal plane).
In this plane of movement there are two movements...
Plantarflexion is the movement we make when we point our toes downwards, away from our legs.
This movement isn't as important to us gym-goers as dorsiflexion is (when you think plantarflexion think ballerinas).
Dorsiflexion is the opposite of plantarflexion, this movement is pointing our toes upwards towards our shin. Think about it - when you're performing a squat your shin moves forward over the foot and if your mobility is poor here you won't be able to get particularly low without your heels coming off the ground.
Testing Your Ankles (How To Tell If You Have Poor Ankle Mobility)
In this test, you kneel on the ground and assume a position similar to stretching your hip flexors, with your knee on the floor. Your lead foot that you are testing should be lined up 5″ from the wall. This is important and the key to standardizing the test.
From this position you lean in, keeping your heel on the ground. From this position you can measure the actual tibial angle in relationship to the ground or measure the distance of the knee cap from the wall when the heel starts to come up. An alternate method would be to vary the distance your foot is from the wall and measure from the great toe to the wall. I personally prefer to standardize the distance to 5″. If they can touch the wall from 5″, they have pretty good mobility. I should note that my photo below has my client wearing minimus shoes, but barefoot is ideal.
What Causes Poor Dorsiflexion?
Previous Ankle Injuries
Compensation From Other Lower Body Injuries
Ankle Mobility Exercises To Increase Dorsiflexion
Improving ankle mobility comes down to 3 areas:
- Stretching the calf
- Myofascial release
- Mobility drills
Foam Roll The Calf
One of the more simple self myofascial release techniques for ankle mobility is foam rolling the calf. This has benefits as you can turn your body side to side and get the medial and lateral aspect of your calf along the full length. I will instruct someone to roll up and down the entire length of the muscle and tendon for up to 30 seconds. If they hit a really tender spot or trigger point, I will also have them pause at the spot for ~8-10 seconds.
What is good about the foam roller is that you can also add active ankle movements during the rolling, such as actively dorsiflexing the foot or performing ankle circles. This gives a nice release as well. Don’t forget to roll the bottom of your foot with a ball, as well, to lengthen the posterior chain tissue even further. There is a direct connect between the plantar fascia and Achilles tendon.
Flex The Ankle Against A Wall
Once you are done rolling, I like to stretch the muscle. If moderate to severe restrictions exist, I will hold the stretch for about 30 seconds, but often just do a few reps of 10 seconds for most people. The classic wall lean stretch is shown below. This is a decent basic exercises, however, I have found that you need to be pretty tight to get a decent stretch in this position.
I usually prefer placing your foot up on a wall or step instead, as seen in the second part of my video below. The added benefit here is that you can control the intensity of the stretch by how close you are to the wall and how much you lean your body in. I also like that it extends my toes, which gives a stretch of the plantar fascia as well. For both of these stretches, be sure to not turn your foot outward. You should be neutral to point your toe in slightly (no more than an hour on a clock).
Hold An ATG Bodyweight Squat Or Lunge Position
If you are able, sit at the bottom of a squat. Keep both heels planted on the ground as you shift your weight from side to side forcing the ankle into deeper dorsiflexion as seen below.
If you are not comfortable in the bottom of a squat, try lunging your weight forward to accomplish the same goal of creating good flexion in the ankle.